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I’m here to evangelize for the cause of reading fiction.

First, let me be clear. I believe your professional life will be enhanced by reading a great business or career-oriented book. I can think of a few inspiring examples, like Ann Handley’s Content Rules, which literally changed my life, or Unmarketing by Scott Stratten.  I can’t wait to get my hands on Robert Rose’s Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.

There is a lot of value in reading advice on marketing from the top marketing minds. Most of these authors are influencers in the industry. They tour the professional speaker circuit and consult big business on how to run their marketing strategy. They know what they’re talking about.

But there is a joy and a solace found in fiction that cannot be replicated by advice books. Novels involve a stretch of the imagination and a glimpse into the great minds of storytelling that you can’t find unless you are actually reading made-up stories. So I’m going to say it.

Read. More. Fiction!!

It’s good for your working brain. A study by researchers at Emory University, published in 2013 in the journal Brain, found that reading a novel can increase connectivity in the brain and improve brain function. That’s because storytelling is a multi-faceted form of communication that requires the work of different areas of your brain in order to help you understand the dialogue, plot, and characters. A good fiction read can have the same effect on your brain as conditioning your leg muscles will have for a sport like running or biking… the more you use those muscles, the stronger and more efficient they become.

It helps you to empathize with your customers. That same study found that reading fiction improved the readers’ ability to view the world from another person’s perspective. Researchers theorize the act of reading forces the brain to actually process the emotions and physical actions of the protagonist and that processing leads to a greater compassion.

It enhances your imagination. That study at Emory University showed that reading fiction improved the imagination of the study subjects. I don’t really think we needed a study to make that connection! Reading exposes you to the imagination of others. It’s the equivalent of surrounding yourself with smart people. The more you read, the more you begin to see the places your imagination can take you and your customers.

Fiction expands your vocabulary. This is another one that seems obvious to me, but reading fiction exposes you to a greater variety of words than you might run across in normal conversation or emails. The more your brain is exposed to this increased mass of vocabulary, the more you absorb it and incorporate it into your own work. That doesn’t mean you have to write in a verbose manner in order to prove to your customers how your vocabulary has expanded. Rather, it means you’ll have a greater bank of words in your native vocabulary to choose from when you are trying to convey the perfect sentiment to your customers.

Fiction teaches you the difference between a great story and a terrible story. When’s the last time you started reading a novel and couldn’t stop? (For me, it was last month.) When’s the last time you started reading a book and had to quit three chapters in because you couldn’t stand it anymore? (For me, it was January.) Those visceral emotions will stick with the read long after the book has been shelved. The more you read, the more you understand what a great story looks like… and the more likely you’ll recognize it good stories surrounding your own brand.

What are you reading right now? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction books? Why or why not? Share your thoughts about reading and books with this community in the comments section. And you can connect with me on Goodreads to talk more about books!

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.